This blog will be concerned over the use of overt and covert methods in psychology. First of all, the meaning. For something to be considered a covert observation, they have to be unknown to the people they are viewing. This does not mean they have to be conventionally hidden away, but just that they do not know they are observing them. The alternative to this is the overt observation in which participants do know they are being observed. Both of these observational methods have positives and negatives.
Firstly, the overt observation. One way in which this method is more beneficial is that it is easier to establish consent. If 40 people are being observed and know they are being observed, they must give some form of informed consent. Because of this, there is no chance on getting on the wrong side of the ethics board, and makes the procedure easier as there is not as long a brief required. On the other hand, is the affect observation has on participants. Studies have shown that the introduction of an observer, can both positively and negatively affect performance http://skepdic.com/experimentereffect.html. This means that any information obtained from doing a study using overt observation is liable to being biased as participants act differently while under observation. However, this is not always a problem as some studies call for people reacting to observers.
Covert observation is essentially the opposite of overt in it’s positives and negatives. It is good for finding out research in which participants cannot know of the observation. However the main negative is the issue of consent. To be observed without your knowledge means that you cannot give consent. This breaches an ethical issue, and in some situations could mean that the study would not be allowed to continue.
The main issue that should be addressed here is that should consent be required for all studies. In my opinion, no. There is too much emphasis to sticking within guidelines and protecting the participant but in most cases, participants do not care that ethical issues are breached i.e. in the context of doing a study, people are told that they are measuring one thing but they are actually measuring another. They found that this did not bother most people. On the other hand, if everything was observed covertly there would be a lot of issues with regards private information being disclosed which is of course detrimental to the field of psychology. But I think for social research, e.g. observing how people behave in groups, informed consent should not be so strictly followed. Obviously all the procedure post experiment should be performed as required but the initial consent should not be such a large factor. Research such as the Asch study http://www.panarchy.org/asch/social.pressure.1955.html and the Milgram study http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/67/4/371/ could not have been studied nearly as well as if the participants were told what was going on and what was the focus of the study.